In the debate over marriage equality, one phrase keeps coming up as the core objection raised by opponents of gay marriage. That phrase is “the word of God.” Many of the people who have used that phrase have said, quite to the point: “The word of God has not changed.”
So the debate comes down, ultimately, to how we view the Bible. Is it the literal, infallible word of God? Is it “inspired” by God but written by man? Is it a collection of random theo-philosophical writings that have been carefully handpicked by the religious hierarchy?
But as people who have emerged on this side of the Enlightenment, we should also ask: is it meant to be trapped in amber, without recognizing the advance of knowledge since the time of Abraham?
After all, I doubt that today even the most devout orthodox Jew, upon discovering a bacterial lesion on his skin, would first call a rabbi instead of a doctor … and, after receiving an antibiotic, burn his clothes instead of laundering them.
We’ve learned, since the time of Moses, that pork won’t kill us if it’s properly cooked, that diseases are caused by microbes and not an imbalance of humours, that the universe is not a “vault” over a flat, circular Earth, that the world is far older than 6,000 years, that … well, let’s not get into the origin of species.
The march of scientific discovery continues; each year scientists publish more than 1.4 million peer-reviewed research papers outlining discoveries from “Pluto: not a planet” to the human genome.
In that same time “the word of God” has been conspicuously silent. After all, even though we have learned all these things, He, to some, hasn’t published anything that acknowledges them, explains them or offers guidance for them in 2,000 years.
Is God a cosmic J.D. Salinger, who published a few big hits and then disappeared into seclusion? Or has God been speaking all along … and some people just aren’t listening?
This idea was best expressed in a United Church of Christ (Congregationalist) campaign: “God is still speaking,”. (With a comma at the end: “Don’t put a period where God put a comma.”) The case the campaign was making: God continues to speak to us – not only through the clergy, but through the work of biologists, chemists, engineers, physicians, psychologists … not to mention writers, artists and musicians.
This makes perfect sense. If we are to believe in a living God, we cannot listen to Mozart or Beethoven without hearing His inspiration. We cannot look at a Titian or a Vermeer without seeing His hand. We cannot watch our children grow and learn without sensing His presence. As one of my biology professors said, the more he learned about natural selection, mutation and evolution, the more he saw that such a marvelous system must have been designed by God.
The Congregationalists would argue that God was speaking to us about political and religious tyranny in the 17th century. That God was speaking to us about slavery in the 19th century. That God has been speaking to us for centuries about the myth of racial superiority. And some of them would argue that God is speaking to us now about the nature of human behavior and sexual identity.
History shows us that we’re slow to listen to Him.
Science has demonstrated, unambiguously, that, like right- or left-handedness, autism and introversion or extroversion, sexual orientation is determined by a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors, not by individual choice. It is, then, part of a system that God himself designed. Did it take Him 2,000 years to explain it to us? Did it take us 2,000 years to understand it? Or is it – like it was with tyranny, with slavery, with women’s rights, with medicine, with racism – that we were so busily, so insistently repeating what God said 2,000 years ago that we haven’t been listening to what He’s been telling us since?
By definition, God is more enlightened than we are. I believe too many of us are not listening to what He says today.
As children, many of us were taught that babies were brought by the stork, that plants get their “food” from their roots, that Easter eggs (brought by an Easter Bunny) symbolize Christ’s rise from the tomb, that Columbus “discovered” America, that diamonds are formed from coal. This helped us begin to learn difficult (or in the case of babies, awkward) concepts in a way our limited learning allowed us to comprehend.
Would God have treated His children any differently? Would it not make sense that God explained things to the comparatively child-like minds of Bronze Age humans in terms they could understand? And would it not make sense that He would expect us, today, to understand the greater complexity behind them?
With marriage equality, I believe we’re seeing something we’ve seen many times before. People cling to God’s ancient words because they’re afraid of, don’t understand, or simply don’t like His more contemporary ones.
Too many of us avoid the ambiguity of complex truths; we’d rather believe in the Easter Bunny and the stork. Personally, I think the children of God owe Him a little more than that.